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Community celebrates courthouse centennial

Hundreds of people attended a centennial celebration for the Vernon Courthouse over the weekend.
April 14, 2014 - 3:43 PM

“YOU CAN SENSE THE PRESENCE OF MAJESTY IN THIS COURT”

VERNON - Hundreds filled the hallways and rooms of the Vernon Courthouse this weekend not to face allegations, dispute traffic tickets, or file legal documents, but to celebrate the splendor of the building itself.

Every seat was taken in courtroom 301—where Supreme Court matters are heard—for mock trials and a special sitting of court. The busy all-ages scene was a departure from the ordinarily quiet building.

“It was quite astonishing,” Vernon lawyer Dustin Griffin says. “It was really heartening to have the community come out as they did.”

Griffin was busy giving tours of the building during the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. open house centennial celebration. Organizers had to increase the fleet of guides from two to five, and the number of tours from a planned three to as many as possible.

“This building never gets this much attention,” Griffin says.

The public was escorted around the 100-year-old courthouse, from the registry, down the hallways to the courtrooms, to the sheriff's office, and even into the cells.

“The kids love the cells, they like to see where the bad guys are taken,” Griffin says of the sparse, concrete holding rooms characterized by a single stainless steel toilet.

The tours included a 101 on how court and the justice system in general works. Griffin was surprised and uplifted at how interested the public was in learning about the system. He says it’s a “failing of the judicial system” that people are so unfamiliar with how justice is administered in Canada.

“We need to take away some of the mystery of our legal system,” Griffin says. “We need to make people feel more comfortable with our legal system, so they feel it can work for them.”

He encourages the public to visit the courthouse and watch their justice system at work. Generally, trials are open to the public and you can walk right in for a real-life episode of Judge Judy.

While the character of the courthouse will remain in tact for years to come, Griffin anticipates there could be changes to the building, like the addition of an annex where the rear parking lot is.

“This building is approaching a crossroads. It will never be torn down, but it’s not meeting the modern realities of law, particularly criminal law. It’s not built for the modern security requirements and those kinds of concerns,” Griffin says.

There aren’t private passageways to lead prisoners from cells to courtrooms, meaning sheriff’s must “trot them through public areas.” Similarly, judge’s must use public hallways, and that’s a safety concern.

“Just as they give out good news to people, they give out bad news and for some people it’s hard to take, so judges really can't be going to courtrooms or leaving them through public hallways,” Griffin says.

Provincial Court Judge Mark Takahashi described how he gets escorted by a sheriff trained to take a bullet for him from his chamber office to his courtroom. When the sheriff isn’t available, a court clerk does the honours. When he asked the court clerk if she was likewise trained to take a bullet for him, she simply laughed and laughed, Takahashi said, earning a chorus of giggles from the gallery.

He described how the Supreme Courtroom with its high ceilings was designed to emphasize the grandeur of the room and inspire its occupants to be better, more compassionate people.

“You can sense the presence of majesty in this court,” he said. “There is, in the architecture and design of this edifice something that humbles us.”

Dustin Griffin gives a tour of the Vernon Courthouse.
Dustin Griffin gives a tour of the Vernon Courthouse.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infotelnews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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